Andrew & Luke Wilson Interview, The Wendell Baker Story

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline recently caught up with Andrew and Luke Wilson at the Los Angeles press day to promote their new film, "The Wendell Baker Story” which they co-directed from a screenplay written by Luke Wilson. The film stars Luke Wilson, Eva Mendes, Seymour Cassel, Eddie Griffin, Kris Kristofferson, Harry Dean Stanton and Owen Wilson.

In his return to writing and as director, Luke Wilson plays a good-hearted ex-con named Wendell Baker whose latest scam lands him in jail and alienates him from his longtime girlfriend Doreen (Eva Mendes), best friend Reyes (Jacob Vargas) and even his dog, Junior. Eternally optimistic, Wendell makes the most of his time behind bars and vows to turn his life around. Upon release, he gets a job at the Shady Grove retirement hotel, where he befriends residents Boyd (Seymour Cassel), Skip (Harry Dean Stanton) and Nasher (Kris Kristofferson). Wendell's new friends advise him on how to win back his girlfriend, while he helps them battle the hotel's evil head nurse, Neil King (Owen Wilson) and his right-hand man, McTeague (Eddie Griffin).

Smart, sweet, hip, and engaging, "The Wendell Baker Story” celebrates the precipitous fall and rise of an oxymoronic movie hero – a winning loser who follows his own path. Baker, played by Luke Wilson, one of the screen’s most appealing leading men, is a bundle of contradictions. A lovable conman with high ambitions and low energy, Baker likes to dream and scheme about tomorrow, without paying any attention to the realities of today. He embarks on a great comic misadventure that in a sometimes roundabout, but always entertaining, way, leads straight to happy endings.

A coming-of-age story featuring a perpetually immature adult, "The Wendell Baker Story” evokes the wonderfully offbeat and atmospheric classics of the seventies, such as "The Last Detail,” "Harold and Maude,” "One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and "Shampoo.” "We always talked about having a seventies feel,” says co-director Andrew Wilson. "Wendell Baker is a sort of anti-hero, the kind of character you find in a Hal Ashby or Bob Rafelson film.” Born of this classic, part hipster and part "good ole boy” tradition, Baker is a self-styled "retrosexual.” He’s the kind of guy I like to be at certain times,” says Luke Wilson. "Wendell is real upbeat and never lets anything get him down. In spite of his spotty success record, he’s out there trying to be an entrepreneur. He takes an idea and runs with it.”

The inspiration for "The Wendell Baker Story” came to Luke Wilson several years ago when he was in his home state of Texas: "I was driving down Route I-35 from Dallas to Austin with one funny idea in my head,” he explains, "a con artist running an old folks home. On the way back, I had the idea about Wendell Baker driver’s license scam.” The rest of the story fell into place, propelled by the colorful character at its center.

Wilson was doing a lot of writing while on the location of "My Dog Skip.” At the conclusion of the shoot, he gave producer Mark Johnson an early draft of "The Wendell Baker Story,” which Johnson liked instantly. At the time, Wilson was not thinking of directing the film, so he and Johnson met with candidates for the job. "At one point, when we had a director ready to sign on, Luke very quietly said to me, ‘You know what? I think I want to direct this,’” remembers Johnson. Wilson’s oldest brother Andrew recalls, "Over time, Luke realized it was best to keep "The Wendell Baker Story” within the family.

That became a literal proposition when Luke Wilson came up with the idea of Andrew Wilson, the eldest of the three Wilson brothers (actor/screenwriter Owen Wilson is the middle brother), acting as his co-director on the project: "I felt that Andrew and I could do it together,” he says. Andrew Wilson is an actor who has worked as a documentary filmmaker. Luke Wilson knew his multi-talented brother had great visual flair and taste compatible with his own, and was confident he would be a collaborator who would truly support his vision for the film. Having a co-director was a practical decision, too. As Andrew Wilson explains, "the idea of Luke being in almost every scene and having to direct at the same time seemed a little daunting.”

Andrew and Luke Wilson are fabulous guys and we really appreciated their time. Here’s what they had to tell us about their new film:

Q: What are the pluses of working with your whole family?

Andrew: Yeah we had the whole…

Luke: I think like the pluses are that we get along and you do kind of know each other and you are able to hit the ground running. Sometimes when you get on a new movie you kind of have to figure out the way other people work and it can be like being the new kid in high school where you’re just trying to find out where your place is on the movie or on the set. And I don’t know what the minuses would be.

Q: No sibling squabbles at all?

Luke: Not really…

Andrew: We didn’t really have time to have any sibling [squabbles]. We were on such a tight time constraint. You know, we had 35 days to shoot it and the producers called it an ambitious schedule which is a euphemism for impossible, so we were just trying to get the thing done and we were always aware that we really didn’t have time to mess around and argue about this and that. We were just trying to get the thing shot.

Q: How long had you had this in you? Were you inspired by Owen writing his scripts?

Luke: Yeah, I mean that was kind of like the inspiration for it. Just kind of seeing, like the time that he and Wes would put in. You get the script and you read it and it seems so kind of fluid and you just think, ‘Well, it must have just rolled right out of them.’ But you find out it does kind of take time and hard work. So I think in-between watching Owen and Wes and the way they work, I think that kind of gave us a good feeling that you really do have to sit down and take the time and it’s not always really fun. You can’t think, ‘Oh, I’m gonna wait till I get inspired.’ Sometimes you just have to like sit down together and try to grind it out.

Q: Do you all share a sense of humor?

Andrew: I think we do have a similar sensibility. I think we think the same things are funny. I mean Owen, obviously is a really funny, funny guy and he has been since we were little. It’s funny how you’re -- I can remember, like my dad always saying ‘You think you’re the funniest person in the world don’t you?’ In a very negative way. And it turns out he may be one of the funniest people in the world. But yeah, we think kind of the same things are funny, and when Luke showed me the script, I thought it was really funny and really well written. So, we sometimes tend to read the same things and be drawn to the same kind of interests.

Q: How did you decide who would be responsible for what on the set in terms of the directing responsibilities?

Luke: We didn’t really have a planned way to do it. It just kind of worked out where I would block the scenes out with the actors. And Andrew and Steve Mason, the cinematographer, would kind of work out the shots. It was never the kind of thing where I had one idea and Andrew had another and we kind of had to take ten minutes to figure it out. If anything, I feel like we kind of moved a little faster in doing it that way because we really would be able to – I would be able to block it and he’d be able to lay it out and figure out what shots they were going to do. And I can be rehearsing at the same time with them. Yeah, I think it worked out pretty well.

Andrew: Yeah, there wasn’t the kind of auteur effect where you had a director with a vision of the way it should be and a writer with a different vision and then a big star that wanted to do something else that only benefited him. We were all trying to do the same thing which was get the script which we all really liked shot in the amount of time that we had. That was really a very simple goal and also I think when you only have a short amount of time and I’ve worked on some bigger movies where there is a ton of money and a ton of time, you find that maybe there isn’t the kind of creative tension that we had on this. When you know you only have a short time with a limited amount of money, it helped us come up with some kind of good creative solutions. Things that we came up with quickly and on the fly that we knew made it better.

Luke: And we knew that we didn’t want to do the conventional like one master over the shoulder and then a tight shot. We knew we wanted to do like a lot of oners, just because we know that’s what we like, like Woody Allen movies and things like that. And then when you do have a close up, then it can have a little more impact and that’s where Steve Mason, the cinematographer, was really helpful to tell us certain times what you have to get just to make it work. And that you can’t always do that. You can’t always just have a master, just the one shot and then move on. You really need it for the story and to keep people kind of interested. So, that was really helpful to have somebody like that.

Andrew: And also, I think since it was our first time also, we were more open to kind of doing things differently. Like Luke was saying, sometimes with Harry Dean and Seymour, y’know, those guys, sometimes it’d take them a little while to get rolling in the morning. Harry Dean is sort of nocturnal, stays up all night and sleeps all day, so it would take him awhile. So, we’d sort of ease -- we had the flexibility to do things a little differently. We wouldn’t be locked in to a certain way of doing things and I hope that made it better.

Q: Some of your characters were played by veteran talents like Seymour Cassel, Harry Dean Stanton and Kris Kirstofferson. Do you think young people have something to learn from older people if they’d just sit down and listen?

Luke: Yeah, that kind of came about for me like I’ve worked with Seymour Cassel on ‘Rushmore’ and he kind of looks like your grandfather and then you meet him and he’s like ‘Let’s go out. It’s half priced drinks Ladies night at Sharkeys.’ And you’re like, ‘Huh? We gotta be up at six, Seymour.’ ‘Yeah, I know, I know. We gotta get going now. We gotta get started.’ (Laughs.) But, literally like that, I mean the guy would have more energy than I did and still very vibrant to put it mildly. And then you think about all that these guys have been through and I just always liked that they never got beaten down by life. And it’s not as if they haven’t had hardships or ups and downs over the years.
 
They have been in the biz since the 40’s and the 50’s and Seymour’s been in prison and things like that, to where, yeah, I felt like I had a lot to learn from them and it always kind of made me be more upbeat and that helped me with the character of Wendell who is an upbeat guy and just kind of being around those guys. And not to mention Kristofferson and all that he’s done from being a Rhodes Scholar to a helicopter pilot, to a janitor, to a singer-songwriter to a movie star and still doing it today. And that’s why when you hear certain actors say, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking about retiring and moving to Montecito.’ (Laughs.) Which is fine, but there is something that doesn’t ring quite true for me about something like that, where these guys really love what they do despite, like I was saying, the ups and downs, just of your personal life, not to mention professionally.

Q: But you were thinking of them for the roles?

Luke: Yeah, definitely. I wrote it for Seymour and for Harry Dean. And I wrote the Nasher part, Kris Kristofferson’s part, just wrote it not knowing who would play it, but then we were lucky enough to get him.

Q: How did you get Will Ferrell to cameo? He played it pretty straight.

Luke: He’s great. I didn’t write that for him. It’s funny, he and I had gone to Europe and Andrew was actually on the trip to do press for ‘Old School’ and Vince Vaughn was off doing a movie, but we just had so much fun on the trip and people would ask us what we were doing next. And we’d be in Germany and ‘What are you doing next?’ And Will would say, ‘I’m playing a character named Ron Burgundy, he’s a sexist newscaster.’ And then they’d say, ‘And you?’ And I’d go, ‘I’m playing Wendell Baker, and he’s a con man.’ We just got the worst reaction from those people and not only to those ideas, but they hated ‘Old School.’ So, we had the best of both worlds. We had a hit in the states and a flop here, which is exhilarating in its own way. And then we both just got to talking about our own projects and Will said, ‘Yeah, if you ever want me to do a little part on ‘Wendell,’ I’d be glad too.’ And then he got me to do ‘Anchorman.’
 
And then it was really funny. I did ‘Anchorman’ first and then like nine months later ‘Wendell Baker’ came along and he was nice enough to come to Austin for a couple of days and we’d gone jogging the day that he was going to work and I was saying, ‘You didn’t think you were gonna get that ‘Wendell Baker call did you?’ And he was like, ‘No, I didn’t. Didn’t really think you were going to be able to pull that one together.’ (Laughs.) It was just one of those things you are so kind of lucky to get him to do it. Just like, I had kind of written the Owen part for him, but it’s the same idea where you get those guys and you kind of use that script as a blueprint. Let’s just get it like it is in the script once and then let those guys get going. Like, Will Ferrell’s whole, that’s one of my favorite things is him, when you see him for the first time in the grocery store, he’s talking about playing football for the University of Texas and getting his ass shipped out of Austin. That was something we just came up with just sitting right there waiting for them to light the scene.

Q: Ivan Reitman told us he just got a new script for ‘Old School 2’.

Luke: Is that right? That’s the best news I’ve heard. (Laughs.) The problem is, I’m always kind of hoping in the back of my mind for Will and Vince to bomb so they have to do it with me, because I need it! That would be great. I always had confidence that if Todd Phillips, who directed it, and Scott Armstrong, the guy that he wrote it with, I just know they wouldn’t want to ruin the goodwill of the first one and the people who seem to like it. So, I figure it would have to be just as good if not better. But, that’s pretty cool.

Q: I wonder why they haven’t shown it to you yet.

Luke: I don’t know. I always get people asking and I just never know. And it’s the kind of thing where once a year somebody will call, like my agent or something and go, "Hey, would you be up for doing ‘Old School 2’?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, definitely.’ It’ll probably end up being me and two guys besides Will and Vince. (Laughs.)

Q: How does that work – all of you guys starring in each other’s movies?

Luke: I think it kind of goes back to how we got started -- Vince with ‘Swingers’ and us with ‘Bottle Rocket’ and just kind of getting started at the same time. Honestly, it’s one of those things where you make the first call and the agent always gives you the brush off. And then sometimes you have to kind of dig up that home number and do a little Wall Street cold call. Where it’s like, ‘Will? Luke here.’ Long pause. ‘Yeah?’ You know it’s not going to be a ‘Hey, I’m having a BBQ’ call. It’s a ‘We need you in Austin.’ But no, with Owen and Ben, I just think we’ve always had fun doing each other’s movies. It’s really fun to do a little part like in ‘Blades of Glory.’ I just like being around Will. Like I know when Vince got Will to do that part in ‘Wedding Crashers’ with he and Owen, they had so much fun and Owen had never had the chance to work with Will. I think it’s just one of those things that we just started doing. It was never anything by design. It was just something we fell into.

Q: You’ve worn a number of creative hats. Is there one you like better than another?

Luke: We never wanted to direct or I never wanted to direct. I mean I was always kind of interested in writing. I have only done that one script, I mean I have another one finished now and another couple of things I’m trying to work on, but that’s really fun when it’s kind of going well. But it can also make your heart sink when you run out of steam or can’t seem to break through the story or you give it to somebody and they say, ‘It doesn’t make sense.’ (Laughs.) But, yeah, I think we had fun just in the producing of the movie like making the call to get Will to do it or in finding a cinematographer like Steve Mason and you just get lucky. It’s so exciting to think about all the people we’ve read about from Hal Ashby to [Sam] Peckinpah to Martin Scorsese like working with the same people again -- like you see the same names, like Scorsese’s editor, that woman, Thelma Schoonmaker. You just wonder, ‘Who are these people? Are they friends or do they just working together?’ It just seems like a fun way to do it, not that it’s not fun to branch out and work with different people, but I’d say yeah, maybe the writing of it and putting the team together is really fun.

Q: Andy, what does Luke have that’s like Wendell and how is he different? There’s got to be something in there that’s similar like the con man maybe?

Andrew: Not the con man, but just somebody that kind of sticks to it and isn’t easily... Wendell is somebody who has tried a lot of different things and some of them haven’t worked out, but he just keeps plugging along.

Luke: Delusional.

Andrew: You can kind of make that analogy for writing which is a very, very difficult thing to do. Like Luke was saying, you sometimes don’t get the response that you want, but you just have to keep trying and that’s something I kind of admire about Wendell. He gets thrown in jail and he ends up loving jail. (Laughs.) He loves the camaraderie, loved the sports. That’s a quality that Luke has that I admire – somebody that just sticks to it and is kind of tough.

Q: Does your brother want his own trailer now?

Luke: Yeah, he really talks a lot of smack about the dog in ‘My Dog Skip.’ [Laughs.] He didn’t shed a lot of tears when that dog died. No, my brother is great, but he’s currently residing in Texas, but I am gonna get him back out here as the heat kicks in. But Andrew and I are going to Texas tomorrow to do some stuff for ‘Wendell,’ so I can’t wait to see him. My mother said she saw him yesterday and told him that Andrew and I were coming into town and he just yawned and smiled. (Laughs.)

Q: Did you use any of the Robert Rodriguez facilities in Austin while making your movie?

Luke: Yeah, when we were there I don’t even know that you could call them glorified airplane hangers. You better have pigeon sounds somewhere worked into the script because you hear them fluttering around. But, no, it’s a great town, because you’ve got Mike Judge there. You’ve got Richard Linklater and Rodriguez. I’ve heard that Rodriguez’s house he’s got all his mixing stuff and different sounds.

Q: But he’s not loaning it out to you?

Luke: I met him. He couldn’t be a nicer guy and the same with Linklater. Yeah, those guys are really the real deal. It’s so nice just for kids and movie fans and also people who want to get into the business. Like, you see those guys out and around town in coffee shops and they are the kind of people where if you wanted to say ‘Hi’ to them, you could.

Q: Did you have to talk to anyone about using the pictures of the Latino celebrities on the wall of the van at the beginning of the film?

Andrew: It’s funny you mention that, because we had – they said, basically every picture they said, ‘No you can’t do that. You can’t use Herve Villechaize.’ We had -- J-Lo was one of them. They said, ‘No, you can’t use J-Lo,’ but we just kind of steamrolled them and said we have to. It’s kind of funny, it’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie. But, you realize that’s one of the things that they tried to scare [us with] that they were going to shut down the production. If J-Lo found out we were making fun of her, she was going to shut down production.

Luke: We were saying it’s a compliment. We had one too which we cut out where we said, ‘Menudo. The first Latino super group. The Mexican Beatles, but like them too many strong personalities and it blew the band apart.’ (Laughs.)

Andrew: Shoot, I guess we should have had that in.

Q: Is there anything for the DVD?

Luke: Yeah, yeah, we’re working on it right now. It will come out in October. We are just trying to figure it out. We are working with a really good company on it where we will have, they call them bloopers, but hopefully they will just kind of be funny outtakes. We cut tons of stuff out of the movie. And then we are going to try and do a couple of other little interesting ideas and not have the usual boring ‘Making of’ type of thing. Try to have something a little more fun.

Q: Well there be a commentary?

Luke: Yeah, we did the commentary, but yeah, we’re gonna try and figure out some good things for that.

Q: Can you guys tell us what you’re working on now?

Andrew: Well Luke wrote this script called ‘Electric Avenue’ that he just mentioned that we are going to try and get going. We would direct that together.

Luke: It’s kind of a buddy picture about a newspaperman whose life has hit the skids and I’m hired to keep an eye on him. It’s an idea I talked to Martin Lawrence about. A few years ago we’d done a movie called "Blue Streak.’ We just had fun working together and always said we should try and do something together. Yeah, he liked the idea but now we just have to show him the script and see if he’s still into it or if he has the time. But, that’s what we are going to try and get going. And then we have this Jim Lehrer book called ‘White Widow’ that we have to write the script to and then we’ll try and get that going.

THINKFilm will release "The Wendell Baker Story” in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, May 18, 2007.

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